Billy Bear takes a stroll across the hills to meet his friends in the forest.
He’s part of a teddy bear world created by former Birmingham Post photographer Jeremy Pardoe.
After retiring from the company four years ago, Jeremy was inspired to create beautiful cards as a result of his wife Maureen’s hobby.
“My wife has always been a collector of toys and dolls,” says Jeremy, 66 and from Tenbury Wells.
“We have lots of pictures of teddies around the house. I’ve always felt they’re pretty stiff and uninteresting, they’re always inanimate and not doing anything, just perhaps sat on a chair or looking at a book.
“I thought it would be good to have pictures of animated teddy bears enjoying the great outdoors.”
So, Jeremy took on a labour of love in creating his own bears, cutting, stitching and stuffing each one to give him the character he really wanted. “It was a bit of leap in the dark but I wanted to have a go at making the bears myself,” he explains.
“They were fairly rudimentary instructions: lay out the pattern, cut out the arms and body, lay it on the fabric, cut it out leaving a margin then sew up with a sewing machine.
“Using the sewing machine is a bit like cutting a piece of wood with a saw. You just have to follow the line, leaving a gap to put the stuffing in. It was the hand sewing at the end which was the hardest part. I thought the purists at my wife’s dolls club would say it wasn’t good enough if they looked closely but they said it wasn’t bad.”
It took Jeremy around six months to make his first bear Brian. He says: “To create a teddy bear world, the bears had to be the right perspective which meant they had to be fairly big. For the first one, I ordered a pattern and bought the fabric, which cost £120.
Once completed, Brian went on his first outing into the great outdoors, taking a walk through some autumn leaves.
“It was good taking pictures of him on his own but I felt I needed to get a bit of a family group,” recalls Jeremy.
“So I made Billy next. I had got some experience from making Brian so I was able to give Billy’s head and expression more of my own design.”
It was when Jeremy named his second bear that he realised he wanted this to be the name of his company.
He says: “My cousin Bill died a couple of years ago. He was 80 but fit as a fiddle so it was horribly unexpected. I decided to name my next two bears after him as well.
“I wanted to call the company Billy Bear Cards because I thought it sounded nice, it flows off the tongue.”
Jeremy went onto create a family of five bears all together, which he took out and about, setting up pictures of them in action.
Jeremy’s cards cost £10 for five including postage, or £3 each. His boundless creativity means he has plenty more ideas for cards in the future.
“I like the idea of one playing football, another fishing,” he laughs. “When the weather picks up, I’d like to take one to the coast and have him knee deep in the surf, holding a couple of mackerel with a smile on his face.
“I’ll have to make sure it’s a calm day otherwise he could get washed away!”
It takes around a day to create each image as Jeremy has to use lots of the tricks of the trade to make his bears really look capable of doing the activities he’s photographing.
“I have a big frame I put over the bear and then I string him up with wires to get him into the position I want. I suppose it sounds a bit cruel really!
“I then do a picture of the background on its own and merge the two photographs together, getting rid of the wires on the computer to make it look like he’s really doing the activity.
“I made the bears with a rigid spine from neck to bottom and their heads are on a threaded ball joint which means they can move in any direction.”
“I don’t like cute bears,” he says. “They needed to look man-ish, capable, not girly and cuddly and fluffy. They’re bears with attitude.”
The first cards were printed just before Christmas and they’re already selling well.
“My daughter-in-law has been helping Billy Bear to get set up on Twitter. He has a daily thought on there, something philosophical or such like. My three grandchildren love the bears.”
Having only known her husband sewn the odd button on and done some “amateur trouser turning-up”, Maureen, 74, is understandably proud of his achievement.
Just before Jeremy left the Birmingham Post, she contracted encephalitis, a rare condition that causes inflammation of the brain.
“It’s an illness which kills 60 to 70 per cent of patients because it mimics the symptoms of a kidney infection and so sometimes goes undetected,” explains Jeremy.
“We were lucky the doctors caught Maureen’s in time but, sadly, it has caused brain damage so she struggles with her memory.
“She copes extremely well, she just gets on with life. I do most of the cooking now because she forgets the order to do things in.
“Fortunately I’m quite a practical person, that’s why I wasn’t daunted by the physical side of making the bears.
“I always remember my woodwork teacher telling me, in a Welsh accent: ‘measure twice and cut once.’
“It means be certain before you do something and I think that’s an excellent motto in life.”
Perhaps that will be Billy Bear’s next tweet...
* For more information, visit www.billybearcards.co.uk